December 23, 2012
[This is in response to an article sent to me by a friend entitled "When Red States Get Blue: What's the Matter with Connecticut," by a guy named Deneen who teaches either at Georgetown U. or Notre Dame. Deneen is debating with a guy named Frank, who wrote a book some years ago entitled, "What's the Matter with Kansas?" exploring why Kansans, who live in one of the needier states in our nation, vote conservative when such votes were, according to Frank, against their self-interests, especially their economic self-interests. This started me thinking about why I always had issues with Frank's book and the result helped me clarify the basis of my objections to Frank - and by implication to Deneen. And the bottom line is: This is just another distracting debate that obscures its own assumptions, assumptions that are questionable at best. A link to the article is at the bottom of this response.]
Is this a debate worth having? To have this debate, we must make two assumptions:
(a) That we in the U.S. have two distinct political parties and not two indistinct political parties. If these parties are indistinct, hard to differentiate in important ways, then Kansans’ choices, for example, are not all that interesting.
(b) The “models” or “theories” underlying the debate reflect “real reality.”
To elaborate on the second assumption. The “theory” underlying the debate
is that people vote their self-interests, especially their economic self-interests. Frank and Deneen, et. al., assume this is true and then when the evidence illustrates that this isn’t apparently happening, as in Kansas and in Connecticut, they look for explanations.
Well, how about this: The theory is wrong! If what you think should happen is not happening, then you need to rethink your theory, you should scuttle the one you have and start over. And why should we be surprised? Like any theory, this one simplifies “real reality” - as all theories must do to be theories and to be “useful.” Absent such simplification, they wouldn’t be theories nor would they be useful. But what simplifies also distorts, necessarily.
Theories are like maps and, of course, maps simplify. They have to simplify to serve their purpose, to be useful. But it is or it can be deadly to equate a map with reality. Hence, the use of guides, those with “local” or actual knowledge of the terrain one is traversing. [Read Deadly Paradigms by a guy named Schafer, I think, about the failure of all applications of theories of counterinsurgency.]
Do we need a better theory? No, we need a different kind of knowledge, a different way of knowing – not theoretical knowledge but real knowledge. Theoretical knowledge lets us know more when we need to know deeply. There is a difference. To know deeply, we must confront “real reality”. We must learn to look into reality or let reality into us.
And this is the road to “mysticism,” as we call it today. “Mystics” let reality in; they absorb it. And to do this, a healthy soul is required, a soul that is open, especially open to the depths of reality. The imaginative, those we might label “artists,” are often the best guides here, not the theoreticians.
Regarding the Frank/Deneen debate, I would say this to both: Wouldn’t it help to talk with and not just about Kansans and Connecticut people? Think Socrates, talking with his Athenian citizens, not about them. Think Plato who, as some say, had no theory or theories. Such is the beginning of “mysticism.”